Roundtable Week 4

Our panelists discuss rookie quarterback debuts, shocking fantasy developments in September, potential handcuffs, and the tight end edition of For Real, Fool's Gold.

Let's examine what we think about these topics as we head into Week 4.

Let's roll...

Rookie Quarterbacks

Matt Waldman: Daniel Jones scored four touchdowns in his debut. Gardner Minshew and Kyle Allen have performed well as first-time starters. Let's discuss these players and young passers in the league:

  • Presuming Allen and Minshew earn multiple starts or you're judging these three players on the basis of picking one for next week, which of Allen, Minshew, and Jones to you prefer short-term?
  • Is it easier to play quarterback in the NFL than it used to be or are college quarterbacks more prepared? This is a question Joe Bryant asked our staff on Monday.

What are the ramifications of these events in Pittsburgh?

Mark Schofield: If we are talking the-short term, I'm going with Jones. Allen and Minshew have been intriguing over the past few weeks, and Minshew, in particular, was a quarterback I truly enjoyed studying last season, but Jones was extremely impressive in his debut.

He put up some numbers under pressure that are extraordinary, such as being the first passer in the PFF era to have a perfect passer rating in a game when attempting 12 or more throws under pressure. The only one out of 1,674 passers.

That stands out. In addition, when you watch the film on him he was not creating pressure via slow reads or decisions, but he was responding to it extremely well, even making anticipation throws under duress, as I wrote about here. I'll go with Jones.

Dan Hindery: Of this group, give me Daniel Jones. His underrated athleticism should be the differentiating factor both for fantasy and his NFL prospects. Jones might not be quite as athletic as Josh Allen, but he isn’t too far off.

Allen is averaging just under eight fantasy points per game on the ground, which is massive. It’s the equivalent of adding on an extra 200 passing yards to his total each week in terms of a fantasy impact. Jones put up 14.8 fantasy points just as a runner last week. That was obviously an outlier but if he can even add four or five points on average, it greatly increases his odds of putting up QB1 fantasy numbers.

Daniel Simpkins: Of the three, I prefer Jones in the short-term. His next matchup is against a reeling Washington defense that was exploited on Monday night by a not-very-good Mitchell Trubisky-led offense.

Will Grant: Of the three, I think Jones is a great option to add to your season-long roster right now and you'll be able to use him at multiple points this season, including this week against Washington who looked terrible on Monday Night and have to travel to the Giants on a short week.

Jones looked solid last week against Tampa Bay and while four touchdowns aren't going to be an every week occurrence, you can expect he'll get plenty of opportunities with Saquon Barkley out of the lineup for a couple of weeks.

Minshew and Allen are more 'spot starter' or two-quarterback leagues rather than guys you can pick up and feel confident in—even in the short term.

Justin Howe: Jones is definitely the short-term play. Not only does he have a huge advantage in the pedigree as the No. 6 pick, but he’s also a more dynamic scorer with a dual-threat game. That’s not to mention his Week 4 matchup with the Redskins, who can’t stop anyone through the air.
Opponents have completed a stunning 79 percent of their throws, good for a combined 8.1 yards per attempt and 3 touchdowns in each game. Vegas implies a score of 26-23 in this one, so he’ll likely be engaged and throwing more than the others. Allen and Minshew will be more dependent upon splash plays to make a fantasy dent.

Jeff Haseley: Give me Daniel Jones out of those three. His stellar preseason performance has been duplicated in a regular-season game. I would love to have a larger sample size, but what I’ve seen from Jones tells me he is a quarterback who can make the throws, but also understands the game well enough to make adjusts, proper reads, and above all, execute. I can give similar accolades to Gardner Minshew and Kyle Allen, but Jones, in my opinion, is the one with a higher pedigree who is more likely to succeed

Waldman: Is it easier to play quarterback in the NFL than it used to be?

Grant: The list of injuries to starting quarterbacks so far indicates that 'easier' is not a word I'd use to describe the NFL quarterbacks this season. I think NFL teams know that quarterback is essentially your franchise, and very few teams can 'get by' with an average one.
Take Arizona, for example—Josh Rosen was the 10th overall pick in 2018 and the Cardinals 'cut bait' on him quickly when they realized he wasn't going to help them. Now, they have Kyler Murray who looks more like their quarterback of the future and Rosen hasn't throw a touchdown in three games this year.

So quarterbacks in college with high skill are taking steps earlier to prepare themselves for the NFL level competition. NFL hopefuls know that they have a very small window to show their value and won't last long if they don't. Few have the luxury to sit out a full season and 'learn from the veteran in front of them'.

Hindery: I believe there has been more cross-pollination between NFL and college coaches in recent years, which has led to a smaller difference between what offenses are doing in college versus the pros. It’s not just the bigger names like Kliff Kingsbury.

There are also a lot of lesser-known coaches like Brian Daboll, who went from New England to Alabama and then back to the NFL as the offensive coordinator for the Bills. There are a bunch of coordinators with similar resumes. This is allowing quarterbacks to make the transition from college to the NFL more smoothly.

Howe: Absolutely it is— and to a significant degree. One of the most annoying cliches to hear is “The NFL is changing!” but there’s no reason to doubt it. Rules are friendlier than ever for the offense: receivers are protected now, and the quarterback’s pocket is even bigger due to heightened roughing-the-passer attention.
Young passers frequently talk about the flip that switches once the NFL game finally “slows down” for them—and that’s now easier to do than ever. They now operate with more time, more options, and sharper offensive minds yelling from the sidelines.
To that final point: Matt, you bring up a fantastic point that franchises now seem more willing to defer to a prospect’s experience. Most of the recent success stories—Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, Baker Mayfield, perhaps Kyler Murray—have benefitted from being (a) eased in with familiarity, and (b) given a gameplan tailored to their skill sets.
Haseley: Like the college game, the NFL is seeing more teams use 10 and 11 personnel groupings where there are at least three wide receivers on the field. It’s forcing defenses to adapt and use nickel and dime coverages. The spread offense in college is translating well to the pros and quarterbacks are finding it easier to learn at the next level. That’s my opinion on the matter. It also helps that helmets now have communication in them, which has only been a recent addition.

Per NFL rules, “in the NFL, coaches are allowed to communicate with quarterbacks and call plays using audio equipment built into the player's helmet. Quarterbacks are allowed to hear, but not talk to, their coaches until there are fifteen seconds left on the play clock.”
Bob Henry: I think it's a combination of both in the new era of the NFL.

It might be a little backward in that the NFL is running more offensive variations that mimic college spreads/RPO concepts/etc. as opposed to them coming in better prepared. I don't discount that this is happening but there is evidence to suggest that's not it, or at least most of it.

The NFL is opening up to more of the wide-open college-like offenses, but the rules and the way the game is played at the NFL level now play right into it, too.

Very few of the "can't-miss" QBs taken first overall a decade or two ago hit the ground running—see Peyton Manning. Now, we have guys barely drafted making an immediate impact in that they are playing reasonably well.

This ain't your Grandpa's NFL.
Adam Harstad: I mean, my domain expertise is mostly just useless trivia and being really good at PFR searches, so if someone wants to make a substantial case for this I'm happy to hear it, but I think far and away the bigger factor is that it's just easier to play QB now. I have a really, really hard time believing that someone like Josh Allen was better-prepared to play quarterback in the NFL than John Elway or Troy Aikman.

Mike Leach is happy to make the case for why the NFL was underrating Gardner Minshew, but I bet he was equally happy to make a similar case for Kliff Kingsbury and B.J. Symons. And say what you want about David Cutcliffe, where were rookie performances like this out of Heath Shuler, Eli Manning, Erik Ainge, Tee Martin, or the rest of his quarterbacks? Even Peyton didn't manage to throw more touchdowns than interceptions until his seventh career game.

I think the West Coast Offense caught fire in the '90s and the Spread is catching fire in the '10s precisely because it's an easier offense to get positive results from. It demands less of your quarterback. I also think coaches are way more willing to meet young quarterbacks on their own terms today. Dan Reeves was old-school; he was still refusing to tailor an offense to Elway's strengths when Elway was a 10-year vet. Now you get young quarterbacks where coaches are simplifying reads and borrowing plays directly from their college playbooks (to great success!)

Hell, teams used to look for quarterbacks who were "coaches on the field" and "called their own offense". Jared Goff just got the richest contract in history and his coach makes no bones about the fact that he doesn't even ask Goff to read the defense or call audibles on his own.

I don't think there's ever been a time in history when more people in the world were capable of starting at quarterback and running an NFL-caliber offense. At least not in modern history. And I think this is a very good thing. Coaches are delegating responsibility away from quarterbacks and meeting them on their own terms and offenses are better for it.

Waldman: The West Coast Offense is actually the most difficult system to run for quarterbacks due to the verbiage, the play volume, and the range of drops and ball handling. If quarterbacking got easier, then we're defining it based on productivity and the gradual loosening of rules that once gave defenses a fair shake is likely a more significant factor than the West Coast Offense. If there was an offense that actually lit the NFL on fire with points and greater ease of use, it was the run-and-shoot.

Maurile Tremblay: The Air Raid QBs in particular (including Kyle Allen, Mason Rudolph, Gardner Minshew, Kyler Murray, Luke Falk, Baker Mayfield, Patrick Mahomes II...) seem to be ready to play at a moment's notice whenever they're called upon. They don't seem to have the same learning curve upfront as the QBs from pro-style offenses.

Luke Falk will likely never be a stud. But he's a sixth-round pick from last year who is apparently more NFL-ready than anyone else the Jets could find on short notice.

Jeff Pasquino: There are several things at play here. Yes, it is easier to play QB - in the right system. RPO is easier as you're reading the unblocked DE or if the MLB shifts one way and then throw behind him in that void - but the NFL is far more receptive to running an RPO-based offense than several years ago.

It's still just as hard to throw a ball in a tight window as it ever was, and the adage of "adapting to the NFL" is not just the speed of the game but the tighter windows. In college, you'll see guys running free and having 1-2 steps on a defender far more often, while in the NFL that may not happen at all against a very good secondary.

The NFL follows success and copies those who are winning, and now that we've seen teams win with RPO-based offenses, the quarterbacks that run similar systems in college are far closer to ready than when they had to learn not just a new playbook and terminology but also different offensive philosophies.
Simpkins: My opinion is not going to be very popular in light of the recent success of many young, first-year quarterbacks, but I don’t think the game itself has changed significantly. What I believe has changed is that owners and fan bases have become less patient with their coaches and demand results much sooner after a regime takes over.
In turn, coaching staffs and play-callers are willing to simplify what they ask of their quarterback early on with the hope that they can build on those skills over time. Some quarterbacks are able to develop into more, but some stay stuck in the mode in which they continue to need training wheels.
It used to be that sitting young men and allowing them to learn behind a more seasoned veteran was the norm, not the exception. I still believe this is the ideal way to go so that the quarterback’s confidence and growth potential is not stunted by extreme adversity and hit-taking. Unfortunately, most coaches don’t have that luxury before their tenure is up.

Waldman: Daniel, I will add to your point that opposing defenses also have less practice time and cohesion to maximize the flexibility of its scheme than in the past. Free agency and gentler practices have altered the realistic expectation of how defenses can play. This is something that Steven Ruiz covered in a recent article at USA Today and it supports your idea that in many respects, football has been forced to simplify.

Even so, the professional level of football remains profoundly more advanced schematically, technically, and athletically than the college game and one, two, or even eight games isn't usually a great indicator of how good young quarterbacks are. Opponents adjust and eventually force young quarterbacks away from their strengths. It's at this point of adversity where we can begin determining of these quarterbacks are quality players.

The game is friendlier and coaches are less dictatorial about their scheme. It is becoming a more common practice to install elements into an offense that the draft pick used in college.

Baker Mayfield, Robert Griffin, and Marcus Mariota all received those perks. All three began strong. In fact, Mariota went 13-15-209-4-0 in his rookie debut and delivered another four-touchdown effort in Week 6 and a pair of three-touchdown efforts in Weeks 9-10. He was crowned a future superstar.

Remember the excitement about Bortles and his second season? He still can't read Cover 2 well as a quarterback and makes ridiculous mistakes but he managed a 4,428-yard, 35-touchdown season as a passer during his second year (2015).

But a funny thing happens with 16-24 starts—opponents begin taking away some of those things those young QBs did well and those QBs must show some development with at least 1-2 weaknesses.

Mariota had to learn to not to hold onto the ball too long and be more decisive with leverage. As well as rely less on being fast. Now, there's a Ryan Tannehill vigil in Tennessee.

Winston has to show wiser judgment and account for underneath coverage. Not happening yet.

Mayfield starred at OU in an offense that gave him quick reads to attack downfield in 2.5 seconds or less. If it didn’t happen, he was boom-bust as an improviser. More boom because he was an above-average athlete. In NFL, he’s average at best with his legs and the same issues in the pocket and poor anticipation occur with his game when opponents fluster him.

Goff didn’t get any booster seats with his scheme as a rookie and struggled. Prescott earned boosters of a simplified plan and great surrounding talent. When he struggled last year, he was missing surrounding talent and he was no longer good enough to be a starter according to many.

Jones played well yesterday. Eventually, opponents get enough tape to force the young QB to adjust beyond physical play. Then, we learn whether the QB has NFL skills.

Until then, it was a good game from a rookie QB. Whether Jones is good or bad is a question that may take 10-20 more weeks. Right now, he’s a viable fantasy play. Doesn’t make him a good NFL QB. At least, not yet.

Mark, you were a college quarterback. I'm especially interested to hear your thoughts on this.

Schofield: One thing to keep in mind is money. It makes the world go 'round. We've come to understand how valuable a quarterback playing on his rookie deal can be, so the game has changed. The days of sitting and learning are gone because in that scenario an organization might be wasting their best means of being competitive early.

Now the economics of the NFL requires teams to play that rookie QB early, get what you can from him production-wise, and load up around him. Hopefully, by the time he's ready for a second contract, he can stand on his own two feet.

So that's led to teams doing everything they can to make them effective. Whether it is Sean McVay whispering in Jared Goff's ear before every play, or Matt Nagy treating Mitchell Trubisky like he's Tim Tebow at times. Because waiting until they're truly "ready" to stand on their own just wastes years of that rookie deal, and that chance to be immediately competitive by building around them.

So in a sense, I don't think it is necessarily easier to play quarterback in the NFL these days, nor are college quarterbacks more ready. It's just that the economics are forcing teams to play early, and coaches are doing what they can to make them productive.

Doug Drinen: I reject the question. To me, it's (almost) tautologically true that it's equally easy "to play QB in the NFL" during all time periods.

If we gave the offense a 12th man, would that make it easier to play quarterback? I don't think it would. It would make it easier to rack up stats that are higher than the stats we're used to seeing, but that's not the same thing.

The number of NFL quarterbacks is fixed. The number of above-average NFL quarterback s is essentially fixed. What's hard about being an NFL quarterback is not throwing passes and reading defenses and whatnot, it's being one of the 32 best people in the world at throwing passes and reading defenses and whatnot.

Even if we accept the premise that, let's say, systems are simpler than they used to be, then they're also simpler for all the dudes who are trying to take your job, and take your spot on the all-pro team, and win the one available ring.

If Chase's Stuart's point in our staff conversation is that it's never been easier for a guy with a big arm but a head full of rocks to play quarterback in the NFL, then we can talk about that (though Gardner Minshew doesn't help make the case). If the point is that it's never been easier for young guys to play quarterback in the NFL, then it's necessarily true that it's never been harder for old guys to play quarterback in the NFL. Is that the point being made here?

Harstad: Doug, If we accept your premise that a quarterback's job is to be better than other quarterbacks, I'd say your conclusion follows logically. My premise is that a quarterback's job is to be better than the defense.

If you invented bricks that were the exact same size and shape with the exact same structural integrity as previous bricks at just a tenth the weight, the ordered list of all bricklayers in the world from best to worst probably wouldn't change very much, but I'd still think it'd be easier to be a bricklayer than ever.

Similarly, the invention of safety nets doesn't increase the difference between the best trapeze artists and the worst but I'd still submit that it makes it easier to be a trapeze artist.

Drinen: Adam I don't want to go too far with the bricklayer example, but under your hypothetical, I don't know that it would be easier than ever to be a bricklayer.

Why not? Because you'd be expected to lay a lot more bricks a lot faster. And if you didn't, you'd presumably be out of a job, because someone else would.

[I don't have an immediate answer on the trapeze example, to be honest.]

The job of a QB is to help his team win games. How can that possibly be easier for all of them?

Harstad: If the league changes such that teams are abler than ever to win with the 30th-best-caliber quarterback play, say?

I get that there’s some offset. Lighter bricks equal higher demands. I just don’t know that I buy that the offset is 100 percent.

I’m also don’t think that hardness is only (or even best) measured by a difficulty to achieve some relative position. Maybe I’d rank in the same relative percentile at ditch-digging, firefighting, and filing, but the ones where I’m sacrificing my body or risking my life still seem harder.

My friend is as good of an Occupational Therapist at her new job with a functional office dynamic as she was at her last job with a dysfunctional dynamic, but she’d be the first to say her old job was harder.

If coaches are meeting quarterbacks partway more, if offenses are coming up with more hacks so that mediocre quarterbacks are able to compete, if quarterbacks are healthier and better protected than at any point in history, I think it makes sense to say that quarterbacking has gotten easier.

Though I also get where you’re coming from and think this is less a substantive disagreement than a semantic quibble over meanings.

Drinen: First off, I think the health and safety stuff is outside the scope of this conversation. I could be wrong, but I don't think that was part of Chase's point, nor how anyone else interpreted it. But sure, I'll give you the health and safety.

And I guess I see where you're coming from on the rest of it. If the forward pass were outlawed and quarterbacks were required to wear 100-pound shoes, then playing quarterback in the NFL would be easier, in the sense that it would be less important. QBs would essentially be interchangeable snap-takers whose only job is to pitch to someone. Sort of like long-snappers, now that I think of it.

Strictly speaking, I think my argument would have to imply that being a QB and being a long-snapper is equally easy. But I don't believe that.

So I'm somewhat convinced. If the difference in value between the best and worst QBs is getting compressed, then I'd be willing to interpret that as signifying that "it's easier than ever to play QB." And that's what you're saying here, right?

If so, then the question is: Does Josh Allen's and Kyle Allen's and Gardner Minshew's adequacy constitutes evidence that the difference in value between the best and worst QBs is shrinking?

Harstad: Yes, that's about the long and short of it, other than I'd say maybe comparing to the best and the worst is the wrong way because it makes you especially prone to outliers. E.G.

But I do think the 40th-best quarterback in the world can probably get you results a lot closer to the 10th-best quarterback in the world today than he could in, say, 2009 or 1999 or 1989 or 1979.

Although I was thinking about it more and I wonder if it's not just a result of teams being willing to do more diverse things on offense than ever before. Like maybe 20 years ago everyone wanted a guy who could stand tall in the pocket and throw into tight windows, and there were only 10 guys who could do that, and everyone else was stuck with guys who couldn't and sucked.

Whereas now maybe teams will be happy with "stand tall in the pocket" guy, but they'll also be happy with "beat teams with his legs" guy and there are five more of those, and they'll be happy with "spread the field and throw to open space" guy and there are eight more of those, and now the pool of viable quarterbacks has more than doubled. And coaches who can't get one of any of those types are more willing to look at what they guy they have *can* do and try to find a way to make him viable, too.

I mean, the whole point of the West Coast Offense was that it was specifically designed to increase the pool of viable NFL quarterbacks by one (Virgil Carter). It just wound up overshooting.

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